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Irish Brown Soda Bread

There is nothing quite like a slice of freshly baked soda bread, still slightly warm and slathered in Irish butter topped with a fruity homemade preserve.

I may have only visited the land of leprechauns a handful of times but already some of my strongest memories revolve around the food. Mary, Darren’s mum, is phenomenal in the kitchen and before we’ve even woken up, the smell of fresh bread is already wafting down the long corridor. It’s something that is so synonymous with an Irish childhood…fresh brown bread baked every morning, served at almost every meal.

Soda bread in Ireland dates back to the 1800’s but it was the potato famine that caused its surge in popularity.  Bread soda was so widely available and didn’t cost the earth.  It was also a resourceful way to use any wasted sour milk and could be made without an oven, in a cast iron bastible over the stove.  The soft wheat grown in Ireland lends itself perfectly to this soda leavened bread as a yeasted bread would have required a foreign hard wheat.

When I came back from Ireland last autumn, armed with Mary’s recipe, I set about developing a bread that would work with the ingredients I had available in the UK. It’s not elaborate, grand nor does it pack a powerful flavour punch. Rather, it’s charm is down to its hearty simplicity. I urge you to try it; it’s quick, easy, inexpensive and an excellent vehicle for anything from butter or soup to Christmas leftovers in a sarnie. I now make this most weeks, often more than once and on many occasions it has saved us from having an empty stomach at lunchtime.  It sure makes an excellent ham and cheese sandwich with chutney and mayo!

Following in Mary’s footsteps, I tend to make my bread in a loaf tin since there’s just two of us to feed and it cuts nice even slices. However, traditionally it is served as a round loaf with a cross cut through the centre; this allows steam to escape giving way to a better rise but Irish Catholic legend has it that the cross is cut to scare the devil away! To make yours in a round, I’d suggest reducing the amount of buttermilk by 50g, else the dough will be too wet and sticky to shape.

There are few variations on this classic – counties like Donegal and Leitrim used to add caraway seeds and it wasn’t unheard of for the Irish to use white flour and throw in a few dried fruits during periods of celebration. I’ve included a few variations at the bottom but the possibilities are endless!

Irish Brown Soda Bread
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
40 mins
Total Time
55 mins
Servings: 1 loaf
  • 175 g plain flour
  • 225 g wholemeal flour
  • 50 g wheat bran
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 25 g unsalted butter cut into small cubes
  • 450 g buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp honey
  1. Preheat your oven to 190 degrees? Grease a 2lb loaf tin with butter.
  2. Sift the plain flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda together in a large mixing bowl. Add the wholemeal flour, wheat germ and butter.
  3. Mix the buttermilk, egg and honey in a jug until combined together.
  4. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it starts to resemble breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre.
  5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the well and start to mix until it's just come together. Be careful not to overwork it.
  6. Transfer the mixture into your prepared tin and using a sharp knife, making a cut down the length of the loaf.
  7. Pop in the oven for 40-45 mins. The loaf is baked when it sounds hollow at the bottom.


Soda Bread Variations

  • Try adding some sunflower and pumpkin seeds to the mix
  • Use white flour instead of brown and add some raisins for a ‘Spotted Dog’ loaf
  • My pesto and sundried tomato soda bread is a little less traditional but certainly packs a lot of flavour!


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